The following is taken from a booklet originally researched and written in 1955 by Andrew Cunningham to mark the Tercentenary of Dalserf Church building.
Thy will was in the builders’ thought;
Thy hand unseen amidst us wrought;
Through mortal motive, scheme and plan,
Thy wise eternal purpose ran.
A Short Historical Account of Dalserf Parish Church
Serene, yet humble, in the midst of the quiet of Clydeside, disturbed but occasionally by the noises of this modern age, stands the Parish Kirk of Dalserf, as it has stood for three hundred years.
Within its walls have foregathered many generations of good people, sometimes with great joy in their hearts and sometimes in deep sorrow, but always with the desire to worship their God as they wished and to see His Kingdom extended to “Earth’s farthest shores”.
The building itself has no pretensions to architectural beauty, and from the outside its grey walls and curious belfry are no more than quietly noticeable, although few can fail to be impressed by its setting in the midst of the tiny cluster of thatched cottages which are all that remain of the onceflourishing “Dalserfe Toun”.
When one enters the building, however, the story is entirely different, for one is immediately struck by the quiet, peaceful simplicity of an interior blemished by no garish hand.
The Church is now roughly T -shaped but was originally a rectangular structure which could not have been very spacious. That same compactness is now part of its charm.
If we are to find out something about the history of the Church we must think also of the Parish itself and sometimes even of the greater area of Clydeside, so let us begin by turning back the clock to the time when the Roman Legions had not long departed from Strathclyde, leaving very little of interest to us except possibly the apple trees which for so long brought such glory to Dalserf and other parts of Clydeside. Even as far back as the sixth century, the famous Merlin is known to have sung their praises, and two centuries later they were mentioned by the Venerable Bede.
Not long after the exit of the Romans there appeared in South Scotland small groups of men who were to sow the seeds of Christianity among us. It is not without good reason that this part has been called the “Cradle of Christianity” in Scotland, for it was here that St.Ninian and his disciples were first to preach the Word, here that St.Patrick was born, and here that St.Kentigern, or Mungo as he is often called, founded his churches. Associated with the above were St.Serf and St.Machan, the two with whom we are concerned.
There is some considerable doubt about the life history of St.Serf and it is not even certain in which century he lived and worked. One of the most popular stories suggests that he was the teacher and counsellor of St. Mungo, who is said to have been brought up by him somewhat in the manner of Samuel in the biblical story. He spent a great part of his life at Culross in Fife, but he is also known to have worked in the Clyde Valley. A possible meaning of the word Dalserf is “the field of Serf”, indicating a definite connection of the Saint with our district. St.Serf is thought to have died at Dunning in the year 543.
St.Machan’s history, on the other hand, is better known. When Cadoc left Scotland to return to Wales about the middle of the sixth century, he left behind him an earnest worker in Machan, who had been trained in Ireland but then devoted the rest of his life to the further evangelisation of the Clyde Valley. One of his centres, and perhaps the main one, was Dalserf, which was formerly known as Machanshire, and still contains in its place names many references to the Saint.
We know that an altar of St. Machan stood in Glasgow Cathedral on the left of the front entrance; it was destroyed at the Reformation. Also identified with the Parish is St. Patrick, for in its south-east corner is still to be found Dalpatrick, which means the field of Patrick, and again near the Avon we have the lands of Patrickholm. Evidences of early occupation of this area have been found at various times, probably the most important being the discovery at Dalpatrick some hundred and fifty years ago, during the removal of a tumulus there, of a stone coffin some 2Y2 feet (1.2m) long and 1 Y2 feet (0.45m) wide, composed of flagstones and containing an urn and some human bones among which was an under jaw with a full set of teeth except one. The urn was about 6 inches (15.2cm) high, of baked earth, reddish without and dark within, of a course texture, narrower at the mouth and bottom, apparently formed in a mould of straw or some such material before it was put into the fire. Another urn of nearly the same size and shape but of a whitish colour, finer in texture and ornamented around the handle was also found among the rubbish along with a smaller vessel of clay which resembled a lamp.
At Cairncockle, on the highest land in the whole district, there was another cairn, surrounded by a ditch-Iike formation. This may have been a Bell-Barrow, which was an ancient burial mound of earth or stones in the shape of a bell.
In 1932, two further discoveries were made. The first was at Cairtongill, near Netherburn, on the fruit farm occupied by Mr. Archibald Miller, where was uncovered, during digging opera- tions, a rough stone pavement, composed of five sandstone slabs and supporting on its eastern end a shaped block of granite. In the “Hamilton Advertiser” of 3rd August, 1932, Mr. Ludovic Mann described this as a possible prehistoric shrine. The second discovery was at Braehead, where in September of that year a rough stone fort and a flagstone, marked with a quartered circle, were unearthed and nearby about the same time a curious sculptured head of freestone was taken from the foundations of an old house.
These few discoveries are sufficient to convince us that this area was settled from the earliest times and there is no more likely spot than the holm of Clyde, where the present village and Church of Dalserf stand. Such a place, sheltered and protected by the river on three of its sides, and one of the most fertile tracts of ground in the Parish is typical of the sites of many early settlements. In addition, directly opposite the Church, on the other side of the river, is the site of an ancient moat castle, the precursor of the present medieval Garrion Tower, and, a few hundred yards further west, the road from Garrion Bridge to Cambusnethan has cut away part of an early earthen mound. When the road was being built, it is reported that the stones from this mound were at first used, but it was soon discovered that the mound had been an old burial place within which stone coffins were concealed. During its removal there arose a terrible storm, confirming apparently an old superstition that the mound was a sacred place and if ever an attempt was made to remove it such a tempest would occur. To the south-west of the present Church lies the site of the old Forest Church of Mauldslie.
It would, therefore, be strange indeed if there was not some evidence left of the ancient occupation of the area, and such evidence does exist, for lying beneath one of the west windows of the Church, where it has been placed out of the way, is an early slab of freestone some 6 feet 3 inches (1.9m) long, by 1 foot 9 inches (53.3cm) broad, by 1 foot 3 inches (38cm) high. It is flat, or almost flat, for 9 inches (22.8cm) or so at the top while the sides are enriched with four rows of scalloping. The stone, which is solid throughout, was recovered in 1897, on the south side of the Church by the gravedigger, Mr. John Ritchie. Mr. J. Jeffrey Waddell, I.A. in a report to the Ecclesiological Society in 1922, states that the stone probably belongs to the Norman Period or that just preceding it.
It is also known that the graveyard conceals beneath its surface some old foundations, but their age and extent have never been investigated.
I do not think, therefore, that we go too far in assuming that the present site of the Church probably supported a much earlier religious edifice which might even have been Serf’s or Machan’s earliest chapel. It is regrettable that we have no information about the original chapel or chapels, but we do know a little about those which existed before the Reformation.
The principal religious edifice from the 12th century onwards was almost certainly the chapel at Dalpatrick. Its early dedication to the Saint of that name was superseded by a later one to the Virgin Mary, and we find one or two references to it under the latter title. It seems to have been originally independent, but in the Inquest of David I (while he was Prince of Cumbria) concerning the lands belonging to the Church of Glasgow, we find among a list of old churches, the name Mechyn, which is, of course, our own Machan. Then in 1150, when the Church of Cadzow was gifted by David I to the “Church of Saint Kentigern of Glasgow, and to the Bishop,” the Chaplainry of Machan is mentioned as part of it. In 1302 a document records the presentation of “£31 5s (£31 25p), received from 461/2 chalders and 6 bolls of oatmeal, sold from the fruits of Cadihou Church and the Chapel of Maghan” to the Rector of Cambusnethan, and in 1319 Edward II, while at York, made certain presentations to Scottish Benefices, among which were “Bygar, Cameslong, Stanhous, Douglas and Maghan.” We must note, therefore, a close connection with both Cadzow and the Church of Glasgow. This is further brought out by the fact that, although the Chapel of St. Mary of Maychan is mentioned in King Robert Bruce’s Charter to Walter Fitzgilbert, the first of the Hamiltons without anything being said about its advowson, yet some years later, in 1320, this same Walter presented certain vestments, a chalice, two phials and a censer of silver, to the Altar of the Virgin in the Crypt of the Cathedral of Glasgow, reserving the right of use of them for the Chapel of St. Mary of Maychan at the four great feasts of Easter, Christmas, Whitsunday and the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.
The last piece of evidence to support this connection with Cadzow is contained in the “Descriptions of the Sherrifdoms of Lanark and Renfrew,” compiled about 1710 by Hamilton of Wishaw, which states that, in the time of James II, Lord James Hamilton founded a provostrie at Hamilton, and gave to its provost the vicarage teinds of the Parishes of Hamilton and Dalserf as well as certain lands in these Parishes and in the Parish of Stonehouse. The suppression of this provostrie took place presumably at the Reformation and the teinds then reverted to the Duke, as Patron.
On the other hand, a Charter of 1589 from James VI granted to the Duke the Patronage of Dalserfe along with that of Hamilton and the Deanery of Glasgow, while in 1621 Parliament ratified to James, Marquess of Hamilton, the nephew of the above Duke, the lands and Barony of Machanshire, “callit the parsonage of the kirk of Dalserf.” These have been taken as evidence that Dalserf was made into a separate Parish before the Reformation. This however, does not appear to be correct, for no record of clergy or the like has ever been found.
This Chapel of St. Mary of Machan was destroyed at the Reformation and, although the ruins were still visible at the end of the 18th century, no trace of the building can now be seen.
We have also some knowledge of St. Ronan’s Chapel at Broomhill on the site known as Chapel Rone, which is on the right of Broomhill Avenue, just beyond the railway bridge. It is said of this chapel that in 1563, when a mob came to pull it down, the lady of Sir John Hamilton met them on the way and assured them that they might save themselves the trouble as she meant to make a good barn of the place. The mob were satisfied by this and it was permitted to remain until 1724 when it collapsed of its own accord.
The other two chapels in use were St. Serf’s at Chapelburn, near the old road from Hamilton to Lanark by Nethanfoot, and a private chapel belonging to the Raploch family at Chapel Knowe, near where the entrance to Raploch Football Field now stands.
It will have been noted that the name of Hamilton has now entered our picture and, since that family and the Parish of Dalserf are so closely linked, it might be profitable to look for a moment at the circumstances which brought about the lands into their possession. Unfortunately, no full historical account has ever been set down as far as we know, but from the few references to the Parish in the records of these days we gain the following information.
In early times the lands appear to have belonged to the Crown, and were probably part of the hunting ground of Cadzow Castle. Thanks to an Inquisition which Edward I ordered to be held in 1303 at Lanark as to the tenure of these lands, it is seen that the Commyn family had held the land for many years. This Enquiry was held under the “Sherriff” who at that time was Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick. The following quotation from its findings gives some clue to the Parish ownership:- “Sir John Commyn, grandfather of the present Sir John Commyn, gave the land of Dalserfe to Sir William de Galbraithe, in frank marriage with his daughter. It is held neither by ward or relief, nor any other service till the third heir. The said Sir William gave it to his son William in frank marriage with Lady Willelma, daughter of the late Sir William de Douglas.”
It can be seen, therefore, that the lands belonged to the Commyns and were held at one time by their relations the Galbraiths. All trace of the residence of these families has now entirely disappeared, but it was very probably at Castlehill, from which several charters are dated. It would appear that the lands again fell into the hands of the Crown during the reign of Balliol.
Apart from the above references, the history of these years must be pure conjecture, but I do not think that we stretch imagination too far if we state that Wallace must have had definite connections with the Parish. Legend has it that he spent some time in hiding within its bounds and this may well be so, for after the well remembered skirmish in Lanark, and the subsequent murderer, the English Governor, Haselrig, and spent many following days in hiding on Clydeside. It was just across the Clyde, at the Abbey of Mauldslie, that he was made Guardian of Scotland.
After the unhappy death of Wallace, a new champion arose in Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, who, like many of the Scottish Barons, held large estates in England and was a supporter of the English King and State until in a fit of temper he slew his great rival, John Commyn, in a church at Dumfries. For this act he was outlawed by Edward and excommunicated by the Pope for sacrilege and from then began his great uphill fight in the cause of Scotland, a fight which was to end victoriously on the field of Bannockburn, where England suffered her greatest defeat.
Bruce’s first noted connection with Dalserf was as “Sherriff of Lanark” when he presided at the aforementioned enquiry there into the tenure of the lands which he then held as a gift from the King. A far more important association, however, was the Charter by which, after he had been made King, he granted the lands of Machan to Walter Fitzgilbert, the ancestor of the Hamiltons. This Charter is dated 1312 and begins thus:-
“Robertus, Dei gratia Rex Scotorum, omnibus probis hominibus tocius terre sue salutem. Etc, etc……”
A fair translation of the beginning of the above Charter would be as follows:-
“Robert, by the grace of God, King of the Scots, to all honest men of his whole land, greeting – know ye that we have given, granted and by this our present Charter have confirmed to our beloved and faithful Walter, son of Gilbert, for his homage and service, the whole holding of Machane, which formerly belonged to John Commyn, soldier, with its appurtenances in the valley of the Clyde, to be held and possessed by the said Walter and his heirs, lawfully begotten between him and his spouse Mariam de Gordun from us and our heirs as a fief and inheritance through all its rightful boundaries and divisions, with all the freeholders of that tenure, as freely, quietly, fully and honourably as formerly the said John Commyn held or possessed the aforesaid feudal holding. rendering to us our heirs the service therefrom owed and accustomed “.
Walter Fitzgilbert, the first of the Hamiltons, presents us with an apparent contradiction. We first meet him as one of the Scottish lairds who in 1296 swore fealty to Edward I, and, although 16 years later Bruce thought him worthy of the gift of the lands of Machan, it seems from Barbour’s History that only two years after that he was again on the side of the English as Captain of Bothwell Castle. After Bannockburn, certain of the English sought safety there but Walter admitted only the Earl of Hertford and fifty of his men, whom he handed over as prisoners to Edward Bruce and a detachment of the Scottish Army, when they took over the castle. It looks, therefore, as though Walter was either a rather unscrupulous type of person who liked to be always on the winning side or the perpetrator of a ruse to fool the English. It is likely that the latter explanation is more correct for there is no doubt that when Bruce had widespread support from all branches of the Scottish people who were so well united that they could declare :
“It is not for glory, riches or honour that we fight: it is for libelty alone which no man relinquishes but with life.”
From 1312 to this present day Machan or Dalserf has belonged almost entirely to the Hamilton family, the three best known branches being the houses of Dalserf, Raploch and Broomhill.
In the reign of James I the family of Hamiltons of Dalserf was founded, David Hamilton, its founder, being a son of Sir John Hamilton of Cadzow. It is recorded that the lands were granted to him by his brother James, who had succeeded to the lands of Cadzow, but he did this without royal assent and on 18th April, 1426, King James granted a Charter to “James de Hamilton, son and apparent heir of James Hamilton of Cadzow” (and therefore a nephew of the above David) “to the lands of Dalserf in the Barony of Machane and Sheriffdom of Lanark, belonging to the King by reason of escheat because James Hamilton of Cadzow had conferred the lands on David of Hamilton, his brother, by charter and sasine without the consent of the King or Regent in the King’s absence.”
The first Laird of Dalserf had a younger brother named Walter, and it was he who was first granted the lands of Raploch in the year 1430. About forty years later John Hamilton, third son of Lord James Hamilton by his marriage to Mary, daughter of James II, was granted the lands of Broomhill. These families were to produce many great and noble men and not a few of rather the opposite type.
It will have been noted that in these early times the Parish was always called Machan or Machanshire, but in the year 1444, a mandate from Pope Eugenius IV to William Turnbull, Bishop of Glasgow, speaks of “the perpetual vicarage of Cadzow and the annexed Chapel of Dalserf.” This is the first mention to be found of the name Dalserf in any form, and it would appear that it did not come into general use till the middle of the 17th century. We first find it in its present spelling when in 1461, “John Hammiltoun of Dalserf” was incorporated into the University of Glasgow as a student.
On 1 st August, 1560, the National Church of Scotland was severed from the Church of Rome by Act of Parliament, and in the same year the first General Assembly met, the first Confession of Faith was drawn up and a start was made towards the formation of our present Church, which was not to be firmly established for many long and hard years to come.
The first minister of the Protestant Church of Machan was Andrew Hamilton, M.A., who was styled Reader until the year 1593, when he was admitted minister. Nothing is known of him or his ministry, which must have ended in 1599, for on Christmas Day of that year, James Hamilton, a son of the Laird of Dalserf, was translated from Carmunnock, being admitted minister on the 15th April, 1600. About seven or eight years later this same gentleman was appointed Dean of Glasgow and attended the General Assembly as such between 1610 and 1618. In May, 1609, he was translated to Hamilton, and thirty years later both he and his son, who was minister of Glassford, were among those who were deprived of their charges for failing to acknowledge the General Assembly of 1638. The vacancy was then filled by two more Hamiltons in succession. The first, Claud by name, remained in the Parish until his death on 23rd December, 1635. The second, whose Christian name was John, spent just over three years at Dalserf , for in 1639 he was deposed for the crime of simony. This crime, the name of which is derived from the story of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8, is defined as the “selling of spiritual preferment.”
Regarding the above John Hamilton and his successors, Baillie says in his “Letters” :- “In Decerfe, poor Mr. John Hamilton was put out, I know not for what; his successors, good men, Mr. John Weir and Mr. Francis Aird, did both die unexpectedly.”
The Rev. John Weir was born in 1610 and after graduating M.A. was recommended by the General Assembly of 1638 as ready to supply vacant parishes. He became minister of Dalserf in 1642 and one year later he was chosen as one of the four ministers to preach and administer the Solemn League and Covenant to the Protestants of Ulster, his companions being the Rev. James Hamilton of Dumfries, the Rev. Hugh Henderson of Dalry, and the Rev. William Adair of Ayr. These good men set out on their journey, reaching Carrickfergus at the end of March, 1644, when they immediately set about their arduous task. Although their mission was completed without meeting with any serious opposition, severe trials awaited them on their return voyage, for Mr. Adair fell ill with a dangerous fever which recurred twice on the way home, while Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Weir met with an even greater misfortune.
In Ireland the greatest opponent of the Covenant had been the Earl of Antrim, who had agreed to supply the Duke of Montrose in Scotland with two thousand Irishmen to assist the latter to cause a disturbance in the Highlands in favour of the declining cause of King Charles1. The first draft of these men, under command of Alaster Macdonnell, the infamous “Colkittagh,” was on its way by ship to Scotland when, on 3rd July, 1644, it came upon the ferry boat on which the ministers were travelling. Macdonnell took off eight people, including Mr. Weir and his wife, Mr. Hamilton and his father-in-Iaw Mr. David Watson, and a merchant from Merryton, incarcerating them eventually in Mingarie Castle, near Ardnamurchan, on the most westerly point of the mainland of Scotland. four of the eight were soon freed, probably on payment of ransom, and on the 3rd of September, Mrs. Weir appealed for and was granted her freedom. Her husband and his two companions were not so fortunate, for early in October the worthy minister of Dalserf took seriously ill and died a fortnight later. Mr. Watson also died the following March and it was not until 2nd May of the following year that Mr. Hamilton was allowed to go free. The latter has described Mr. Weir’s conduct thus:-
“All that knew Mr. Weir from a child of ten years or thereby, might have discerned in him a perpetual preparation for death by his grave and holy behaviour. But when our Lord saw his time of departure approach, He set him apart in a marvellous manner to make him ready for eternity.” Although suffering the most cruel hardships during their imprisonment, “Mr. Weir and Mr. Hamilton did, both of them, every day twice, expound a psalm or part of a psalm, the one praying before and the other after the said exposition. This they did in the hearing of those other fellow prisoners, so long as they were together, in which time they had succeeded in expounding to the 81 st Psalm.”
So died a worthy minister of Dalserf, and incidentally one of the first of a long list who suffered for the Covenants.
The Rev. John Weir was followed, as Baillie has stated, by the Rev. Francis Aird, M.A., who was admitted in 1646. He joined the Protesters in 1651 and in 1654 was appointed one of a committee of ministers who were directed by Oliver Cromwell to visit the universities and place suitable ministers within the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Mr. Aird was noted for piety and is said to have “wept much in prayer and preaching and insisted much on death and judgement.” His communions were largely attended, people coming from as far as the North of England to hear him. He was very punctilious in matters of dress, and on one occasion is said to have reminded the Synod that mounted or, as we would say, embroidered gloves should be worn while preaching. He died in office in 1659, but no clue remains to explain why Baillie thought his death unexpected, except maybe that at the time of his death he was only 57 years of age. His“bookes with the utencils of his house” were valued at £333 6s 8d. (£333 33p), a very considerable sum of money at that time.
It was during Mr. Aird’s ministry that the present Church building was erected, a stone on the southern wall, showing the date 1655. At that time the Church was transferred from the old chapel building at Dalpatrick, and it is a great pity that no record exists of the work or of the builders to whom we owe so much for the proud heritage of its three hundred years of valiant service to God. Our little Kirk in the Valley could not have been built had not some good men first worked very hard to put it there, and it would not have stood the blast of centuries so well had not the workmen who built it seen that their work was very good indeed.
What do we know, however, about the people who were mainly concerned in the erection of the building, namely the Heritors of the Parish? We know, first and foremost, that they were all members of one or other of the branches of the Hamilton Family, so it is to the history of that family in these far off days of the 16th and 17th centuries that we now turn in order to formulate some idea of the type of people they were.
From the time when Lord Hamilton was married to the Princess Mary, daughter of King James II, the whole family of Hamiltons became strong and loyal supporters of the Throne.
It was James V who gave to James Hamilton, son of the Earl of Arran, the Barony of Mauchaneshire and various other lands and offices, declaring at the same time that the Tower of Dalserf was to be the” principal messuage of the whole.” This Tower probably stood at Auldton, which is known to have been a Hamilton residence for many years and which has as its neighbouring property the Torland, or more correctly the Towartlands or Towerlands.
Thus we see the principal heritor of the Parish firmly bound to the King who was a devout Roman Catholic, and in the years that followed the Hamiltons and their followers were to be the chief supporters of James’ daughter, the ill-fated Mary. No figure in history has evoked so much controversy as the last Queen of Scots, whose story is too well known to require telling here. We can look, however, at those men of Dalserf who stood by her in all her many troubles. The most prominent was Gavin Hamilton of Raploch, who was made Commendator of Kilwinning and as such was one of the chief opponents of John Knox, who described him as a “crafty man.” He was at one time charged with plotting to murder the Regent and at another, along with the Earl of Bothwell, of trying to poison the Queen. The latter charge was very probably false and most likely an attempt by his enemies to cast him into disfavour. If this was its objective, then it met with little success, for after Langside, Raploch was one of Mary’s chief negotiators, and in 1571 was killed trying to prevent the Regent holding a Parliament at Edinburgh.
At the battle of Langside many of the other Hamiltons threw in their weight for Mary. John Hamilton of Broomhill was taken prisoner there and his son Claud was wounded and fled to France. As a punishment Sir William Drury, Governor of Berwick, burned Broomhill House to the ground about the same time as the Earl of Lennox and his English Army were systematically destroying every Hamilton property in the district, including Cadzow Castle and the castles at Draffen and Raploch. Could it have been that this drastic punishment also wiped out the Tower of Dalserf? At any rate, Robert Hamilton, Laird of Dalserf, was also accused of being concerned in the battle, and his son Robert was forfeited and fled to France. Robert himself may have got off for on 12th July, 1568, we find” John Ramage, Reader at the Kirk of Dalserf beseeching the Scottish Parliament” that the above Robert could not have been there as he was “sua vexit with infirmeteis et sa unhable that he was Iyine bedfast this 8 yeiris.”
The Dalserf Heritors and their families were, therefore, stouthearted followers of their monarch and consequently slow to embrace the “new faiths” of Knox and his followers. When they did accept Protestantism, however, they gave it the same zealous support as they had previously given to Catholicism, and in the years which were to follow they stood in the forefront as men of the Covenant, proud to support it and willing to fight and die for it.
Such were the men who built our Church, men who had found a truer way to worship their God and who seem to have left in these grey stone walls something of their own steadfastness and of their simple humility.
About the time when the Church was opened, Scotland entered on one of the most troubled periods in her history. The trouble came to a head when Mr. James Sharpe, whom the historian Wodrow described as “the earliest and most scandalous complier with Cromwell,” was put at the head of affairs in the Church of Scotland. As Archbishop of St. Andrews he very soon reintroduced Episcopacyand reappointed bishops, among them James Hamilton of Broomhill, who was made Bishop of Galloway. Hamilton was a brother of the first Lord Belhaven and has been described as a “contemptible driveller who pretended great zeal for the covenant.” His wife Margaret, who died in 1667 lies buried in Dalserf Churchyard.
One of the worst blows which befell the churches during the period of Episcopacy was the ejection from their charges of about one-third of the Scottish ministers because they failed to conform to the new order. On the list of those ejected were Thomas Kirkcaldy of Tranent, Alexander Hamilton of Oalmeny and John Carmichael of Sanquhar, all of whom we shall meet later. One of those who conformed was the Rev. Ninian Paterson, M.A., who in 1664 was to become Minister of Dalserf , having previously been minister in Oumfriesshire. He attended to the pastoral needs of the Parish till the year 1671 when he was transferred to Smailholm. A little later, we have the following extract from the Privy Council Records to indicate how the vacant charge was filled :-
“At Holyrood, 3rd September, 1672”
“The Lord Commissioners, his Grace and Lordes of his Majesties Privy Council, considering the disorders which have latly been by the frequent and numerous conventicles and being willing to remeid so great an evill in the gentlest maner do order and appoint the ministers afternamed, outed since the year 1661 to repair to the paroches following and to remain therein confyned, permitting and allowing them to preach and exercise the other pairtes of the ministerial function in the paroches to which they are or shall be confyned . . .
“In the Dioces of Glasgow, Hamilton Presbytery”
“Dalserf “Mr. Thomas Kirkcaldy and Mr. Jon Carmichael.”
It is not known whether Mr. Carmichael, who was a brother of the much better known Alexander Carmichael of Pettinain, ever arrived in Dalserf at all for the same records also contain the following petition from Mr. Kirkcaldy about one year later :- “immediately after the Council’s order in September last, the supplicant did repair to the Parish of Dalserf, where he hath preached ever since, and seeing the petitioner hath been at great charges and trouble in providing himself a house at Lanark, in travelling weekly from Lanark to Dalserf , by reason there is not a house convenient for him within the Parish, and that he hath borne the haill charge of the ministry ever since (Mr. Jon Carmichael who was appointed his colleague, not being able to travel to that place by reason of sickness) humbly supplicating that the stipend of the above Parish of Dalserf for the year, might be paid to the supplicant.”
We therefore find the Rev. Thomas Kirkcaldy as “indulged” minister of the Parish and there are later reports to show that the stipend was paid to him for part of his stay at least. when or why he left we do not know and in fact he may not have left at all. He died in 1690 or thereabout. We are certain, however, that Alexander Hamilton, M.A., who was deprived of the charge of Dalmeny in 1663, was transferred to Dalserf for a short time after the year 1667. Mr. Hamilton was a brother of Sir William Hamilton of Whitelaw, Senator of the College of Justice, who appeared in defence of those Covenanters who were taken prisoner at the famous Pentland Rising. When the Rev. Alexander Hamilton departed there appeared on the scene “Curate” Joseph Cleland. These Curates were probably the authors of much of the sufferings imposed upon the men and women of the Covenant during these dark days; Wodrow had this to say about them :-
“They came into the parishes with much the same views as a herd hath when he contracts to feed cattle . . . In some places they were welcomed with tears in abundance and entreaties to be gone; in others, with reasonings and arguments which confounded them; and some entertained them with treats, affronts and indignities. The bell’s tongue in some places was stolen away so that the parishioners might have an excuse for not coming to church. The doors of the church were barricaded and they made to enter by by the windows literally. The laxer of the gentry easily engaged to join in their drinking cabals which with all iniquity did now fearfully abound, and sadly exposed them; and in some places the people violently opposed them with showers of stones.”
Yet another historian of the day, the celebrated Bishop Burnet, spoke of them thus :-
“They were the worst preachers I ever heard; they were ignorant to a reproach and many of them were openly vicious. They were a disgrace to their orders and to the sacred functions, and were indeed the dregs and refuse of the northern parts”.
Such a man was Joseph Cleland, although he seems, in all fairness to him, to have been better educated than the majority of his type, having graduated M.A. at Glasgow University in 1675. He was, however, so steeped in Episcopacy that he received no support from the people of the Parish. He went out of his way to harass them, especially the poorer folk, and in the first year of his ministry he put forward 35 cases for trial at the circuit court.
One morning in December, 1688, however, “a band of stern visaged men tramped down the steep brae to Dalserf Town and passing through the cluster of buildings they came to the door of the manse which then stood near the Churchyard wall. Entering the manse, their leader, Captain John Steel of Waterhead, in Lesmahagow Parish, gravely addressed the Curate, informing him of the changed circumstances of Church and State and that he must demit his charge. Then he drew his sword and made a small rent in the Curate’s gown as he was told to do. At this the Curate’s wife, thinking that her husband was about to be murdered, put herself between the two, asking the Captain to spare her husband and kill her instead. The Captain immediately put down his sword and was at great pains to comfort her. Then in King William’s name he ordered the Curate to depart beyond the parish bounds.”
So ended a tale of hardship which had lasted for over 30 years. many stories could be told of brave deeds and quiet courage against merciless cruelty, stories of Cameron and Cargill, of Claverhouse and his Dragoons, of the boot, the thumbscrews and the hangman’s noose, of Drumclog, Bothwell and Rullion Green and many others, but we must content ourselves here with only a few of the tales of the people of our own Parish, which stood in the forefront of the conflict. During these terrible times no less than 52 men and women of Dalserf are reported as having suffered sorely for their Church and that from a population which could not have exceeded 600 souls.
Robert Scott of the Shaws was one, who had been home from the Pentland Rising only for a few weeks when soldiers came to his dwelling and, finding him in his barn, took him to the prison of Glasgow. He was tried and sentenced to be hanged and to have his head and right hand displayed on public places in Glasgow. The sentence was carried out and his headless body was buried near Glasgow Cathedral.
Inside the Cathedral to-day stands an old stone to his memory and that of eight other Covenanters – its quaint epitaph reads thus :-
Years sixty-six and eighty-four
Did send their souls home into glore
Whose bodies here interred ly
Then sacrificed to tyranny
To Covenants and Reformation
Cause they adhered in their station
These nine and others in this yard
Whose heads and bodies were not spared
Their testimonies, foes to bury
Caused beat the drums then in great fury
They’ll know at resurrection day
To murder saints was no great play.
Arthur Bruce of Skellyton met a similar fate seventeen years later, in 1683, when, along with two others who were not of Dalserf Parish, he was tried before the Justiciary Lords on charges of having been at Drum clog, Bothwell and Rutherglen, with changing his name and with spreading disloyal opinions. The only evidence against him was his own confession, but, nevertheless, all three were condemned and hanged at the Mercat Cross of Edinburgh on 30th November, 1683. It was at his execution that the Dragoons began the abominable practice of beating drums to drown the condemned men’s last words from the scaffold. One needs only to read some of their last speeches, in the “Cloud of Witnesses,” to know that these words would stir up uneasy thoughts in even the hardest hearted of their executioners. Surely these drum beats are the latter’s condemnation and, as Wodrow says, “they were plain evidence of an ill cause which could not bear the light.” These two brave men died on the scaffold for their Faith and with them we must include three Dalserf men -Jon Simpson who was killed at Pentland, Jon Frame who died of wounds after the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, and Gavin Hamilton of Mauldsley. The latter is one of the Covenanters whose heads were buried in Hamilton Old Churchyard. The stone above the grave carries the following words :-
Stay passenger, take notice what thou reads,
At Edinburgh lie our bodies, here are our heeds,
Our right hands stood at Lanark, these we want
Because with them we sware the Covenant.
John Harvie of Netherburn, Andrew McKillen and Walter Ker, a farm servant of Skellyton, were three of the 167 Covenanters imprisoned in Dunottar Castle, the “Black Hole” of Scotland, before being banished to New Jersey. Harvie and McKillen are thought to have returned after the Revolution, but Ker’s fate is not known.
There were also many who suffered greatly by being repeatedly fined exorbitant amounts on trifling charges. One of the worst sufferers in this way was James Hastie of Sandieholm who, for 26 years, was ill-treated in many ways and probably only escaped death by being judiciously absent when the soldiers arrived. We know that in 1666 he lost all his goods when the notorious William Hamilton of Raploch, better known as the “Persecuting Raploch” was chiefly concerned in their removal.
This same Raploch, whose grave stands in the yard of Dalserf Church, was one of the chief persecutors of Covenanters in Lanarkshire. Many stories are told about him, none of them to his credit, but probably the best known concerns a Covenanter who was stabbed by him during the flight from Bothwell Bridge. The dying man is said to have placed on his slayer the curse that “hares would yet breed on his hearthstone,” and his curse seems to have come true, for not many years later the Raploch Mansion disappeared. The mansion, built from a coarse- grained dark brown sandstone, quarried in the neighbouring property of Auld Machan, was, in its time, considered to be a magnificent house. It was surrounded by trees and approached by a long tree-lined avenue which has now become Wellgate and Raploch Streets and Raploch Road. The only part of the old house which remained to recent times was the dovecote, demolished about 1900.
One of Raploch’s supporters was Mark Ker of Hilstonemyre. Both were involved along with Weir of Birkwood, “Lang Tam” Hamilton of the Nethertoun and two others called Mair and Wilson in the capture of the famous Captain Rumbold, who was executed with great barbarity at Edinburgh. Not one of the above six had any good fortune afterwards, for Mair was killed by a fall over Craignethan Craggs, Wilson died after a loft had fallen on him, and Hamilton of Nethertoun broke his leg so badly that it could not be mended. The two Dalserf men were no more fortunate, for Raploch’s life was wicked and vicious, and of Ker it is told that when he was sitting at supper one night there came a knock at the door and, on opening it, he saw two young men who announced themselves as sons of Captain Rumbold. They asked for the father’s sword and when Ker produced it, one of the sons took it and killed him on the spot. Justice, as they saw it at the time, had been done. Such are the more interesting stories, but there are many others of great hardship, of extortionate fines, of small farmers who could scarcely make a living wage having maybe half a dozen Dragoons and their horses billeted on them, and of courageous women who stood beside their menfolk without faltering, even in the face of great suffering. The most important point about it all, however, is that it was not in vain, for in 1688 when the trouble ceased, our present Church was already firmly established.
Dalserf Parish Church 1995 to 2005
The first five years of the decade were relatively uneventful years for Dalserf church. We had our ups and downs financially as at other times. In the Pastoral letter of October 1996 I said “The monster of financial crisis has reared its ugly head over the last few months to the extent that the treasurer had to announce to the Kirk Session that there is in effect no money in hand to meet immediate expenses”. As the result of a stewardship campaign within the congregation I was able to say in January 1997 “the response has been as encouraging as our massive deficit was discouraging – an unprecedented increase in members giving”. Another financial crisis in 2000 was resolved when members increased their giving by a total of £10,000!
I became National chaplain to the Girl’s Brigade, Scotland in September 1994 and held the position until September 1997. This was an honour not just for me but for First Dalserf Girl’s Brigade company. Later that year I was to become a father for the first time. 1996 was the first year the uniformed organizations were on parade on Remembrance Sunday.
An answer to the need for accomodation in Dalserf additional to the church building was found in the former Estate shed in Dalserf village. This is a long narrow building with an area of approximately forty five square metres. Dalserf Estate kindly gave us the use of this building. With the help of a Youth Community organization which offers free labour in return for an opportunity to provide young people with work experience, it was eventually transformed from its original grim state – bare walls, earth floor, rotten window frames etc. It was dedicated on 31st August 1997 and has provided an attractive venue for tea and fellowship after Sunday worship, Bible Class on a Sunday morning, Bible study and prayer groups on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, Saturday afternoon teas, Open Day stalls and other occasional uses.
On 22 October 1997 the Kirk Sessions rather flimsy Committee structure was reinforced by the introduction of Pastoral Care, Outreach and Youth Committees each including a mixture of elders and non-elders.
The Praise Evening ended in February 1998 and The Clyde Valley Churches Joint Monthly service ended in the Spring of 1999. The reason in each case was simply that it was felt that the event had run its course and was growing stale. The Clyde Valley churches Joint service in a more limited form – one service in the year in each of the churches – Law, Overtown and Dalserf – was reintroduced in June 2005.
The last five years have been dominated to some extent by the Rorison Renovation Project (see “The Rorison Story”). On 8 September 1999 Fabric Convener David Manson raised with the Kirk Session the question of the poor condition of Rorison Church. This resulted in the first instance in the consideration of the sale of Rorison and the building of a hall in Dalserf to replace it. Discussion with leaders of the organizations and others led to the realization that relocation in Dalserf would not be appropriate. The renovation of the existing building was chosen in favour of a new building, being a better option financially and the Kirk Session have pursued this goal in spite of a target figure of £330,000. Members of the congregation have been giving regularly to the Rorison Renovation Fund since January 2002, some pledging. Several fund-raising events organized by the Rorison Renovation Committee are held each year including an auction, teas served in The Meeting Place from May to September and an Easter Fayre. Along with £42,000 in grants and £20,000 from a legacy we expect to have over £190,000 to spend on the project by the end of 2006. The roof has now been renewed at a cost of around £75,000 – the single most expensive item. Work by volunteers may allow us to complete most of the renovation with the funds we have.
To celebrate the Millenium around £1000 from the recently received legacy of Marion Walker (£40,000) was used to purchase copies of a modern translation of the bible – The Contemporary English Version (CEV) to distribute to every household in the Parish as a gift from the church. Also in 2000 the large windows on each side of the pulpit were redesigned retaining much of the original Victorian pastel coloured glass but incorporating new designs in vivid cloured glass. The artist was Douglas Hogg. These were a gift from a family from Texas USA who are descendants of an Andrew Shaw who lived in Dalserf Parish and who at the age of 14 emigrated to Indiana USA in 1906 where he settled married and lived the rest of his life.The windows are in his memory and were the idea of his daughter Mrs. Margaret Hewlett. Andrew Shaw’s grandaughter Diana O’Niell was married in Dalserf Church in August 1985 providing a more recent link with the church. Mrs. O’Niell is currently compiling a book about life in Dalserf around the turn of the century.
The Presbytery of Hamilton having introduced the policy of making decisions about the future status of parishes in advance of any vacancies which might occur, decreed on 3 September 2002 that Dalserf would be allowed full status in the event of a vacancy, the decision having been influenced by the large number of new communicants – forty four – in the previous ten years, the health of the uniformed organizations and the “ambitious” plans for Rorison.
For approximately two years from Autumn 2001 David Geddes the Congregational Development Officer for Hamilton Presbytery worked alongside the Kirk Session. This resulted in renewed impetus for Pastoral Care and Outreach. The Pastoral Care Committee never having quite developed a coherent role was replaced by a Pastoral Care Team, under the convenership of Lilias Eathorne, which seeks to arrange that the housebound, sick and bereaved are given regular visits and any help which we may be able to give them. The Outreach Committee is a think tank and organizing body for such activities as parish missions including parish visitation, guest services and evangelistic events. On 23 August the Kirk Session approved an extension of the remit of the committee to cover spiritual development within the congregation. It is now called the Outreach and Development Committee.
The need for better additional accomodation in Dalserf remained. The Meeting Place and caravan had proved invaluable but had their limitations. The ideal solution was a new hall nearer the Church than the Meeting Place with approved toilet and kitchen facilities. A committee to deal with this was set up under the chairmanship of John McPhee and funds became available for this purpose from several sources. The Hall was named “Hamilton Hall” in honour of the Laird of Dalserf Christopher Henderson-Hamilton who granted us the use of the land on which it is built.
In 2002 Dalserf congregation were honoured of having a photograph of Dalserf Church on the front cover of the 2002 Edition of Scotland’s Churches Scheme book “Churches to visit in Scotland” featuring 765 churches, abbeys, cathedrals and other places of worship in Scotland.
In June 2003 due largely to the efforts of several members of the Covenanter Memorials Association the refurbishment of the monument in Dalserf churchyard marking the grave of the Rev.John McMillan founding minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church was completed at the cost of several thousand pounds borne largely by the Association. The memorial was rededicated at a conventicle held at the monument on the afternoon of Sunday 2003. On 29 August the following year the first communion conventicle to be held in Scotland since covenanting days was held in Dalserf Churchyard using the silver cups gifted to Dalserf Church in 1701 by Anne Duchess of Hamilton. It rained adding an element of authenticity to the event.
In 2004 Rita Fairley retired as Session Clerk, mainly on health grounds. In her place the appointment was made- from outside the Session – of recently retired surgeon, Colin Buck.
On 18 September 2005 Kay Blair after 22 years as captain of First Dalserf Girls’ Brigade company handed over the captaincy to Ann Rodger. Ann like Kay has been involved in the company since it was founded in 1983. First Dalserf Boys’ Brigade company grew to a total of forty two boys by the end of Session 2004-05. The company was particularly successful in the past year having on 1 June seen five company section boys receive their Queen’s Badges – the largest number from any one company within the four Battalions of the Lanarkshire Fellowship. Also the Junior Section won the Battalion Bible Knowledge Trophy.
Dalserf Parish Church celebrated the 350th. Anniversary of Dalserf Church building in 2005. A whole series of special events and services served the celebration – a Civic Service, a Reunion Guest Service and a Communion service led by the Right Rev. David Lacy, The Moderator of the General Assembly to name only three. All the organizations in the congregation including the Kirk Session were given the opportunity to organize and lead a service. A week long Parish Mission led by Rev. Jim Stewart, formerly Church of Scotland evangelist, took place in June. Gospel Concerts became a regular feature of outreach in Dalserf at this time featuring some well known names – Cannon and Ball, Syd Little, George Hamilton IV and Alistair McDonald. Bobby Ball came for a week end in October.